By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Nick Hale was in the seventh grade when he sat in the concrete stands at Independence High in San Jose in 2006 and watched his brother, Matt, finish his senior season at Menlo School by winning a Central Coast Section Division II title.
"It definitely got me more excited about playing for Jack Bowen," Hale said of Menlo's coach.
Hale joined the Knights the next season but didn't have the kind of success his brother did. In fact, Matt won three straight CCS titles before graduating and heading off to Princeton.
Menlo lost to Sacred Heart Prep in Nick Hale's freshman season in 2008 and suffered through another disappointing loss to the Gators last season. The 2010 season also didn't start off well for the Knights as they dropped a pair of overtime matches to Sacred Heart Prep.
Hale, and his teammates, evidently decided enough was enough. The No. 2-seeded Knights ended the top-seeded Gators' three-year hold on the CCS Division II trophy with a surprising 11-5 victory on a rainy Saturday morning at Independence High.
"It means so much to back in the championship game and beat them, after losing twice to them this season," Hale said. "I was expecting a closer game, but we probably played our best game of the season."
"What you saw today was this group buying into being the best," said Bowen, who enjoyed the ritual dunking despite the often frigid conditions. "We played our game plan to a T. Our team defense was absolutely phenomenal, and that's the best our counter-attack transition game ever looked."
Menlo had given up nine goals to Sacred Heart Prep senior Philip Bamberg in a 12-11 sudden-death overtime loss in September. In a 10-8 overtime loss to the Gators in October, Bamberg scored twice. On Saturday, Menlo's swarming defense held Bamberg to just a single goal. Robert Dunlevie, the other half of the Gators' potent one-two scoring punch, also was held to one goal.
"We focused on their two main shooters," Hale said of Bamberg and Dunlevie.
"We almost played a 3-on-2, on Bamberg and Dunlevie," Bowen said. Essentially, any time either SHP player got the ball, a second defender would slide over and make shooting difficult. "We sort of ran two separate zones. Those are two dangerous shooters."
Hale and senior John Holland-McCowan turned out to be the dangerous shooters. Hale tallied five goals and McCowan added three. Hale also had five steals, as did senior Jack Finch. McCowan had a pair of goals and Hale one as Menlo took a 4-1 lead. Bamberg and Dunlevie started the second quarter with their only goals to cut Menlo's lead to 4-3. The Knihts, however, then scored four unanswered goals on counterattacks to close the half with a 8-3 lead with Hale getting three of the scores.
"After Sacred Heart rallied, we played borderline flawless," said Bowen, who got 15 saves from senior goalie Keegan Williams plus standout efforts from senior Kyle Bowman and juniors Wade Avery and Jack Lucas.
Menlo finished the season 18-9 with its sixth CCS title while SHP dropped to 19-10, failing to become the first Division II boys' team to win four consecutive CCS crowns.